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Drivers Flood DMV Offices and Website

August 31st, 2009 by flanews

Drivers have until midnight to renew their drivers licenses or car tags online to avoid paying price increases of a third or more. The higher processing fees go into effect tomorrow. But theres just one problem, logging-in. As Whitney Ray tells us, traffic on the website has shut the system down.

The states online tag and license renewal site has seen an 85 percent spike in traffic, making it nearly impossible to log on. Annette Hackett tried three times.

I did Friday and I tried this morning, and last night and it said it was down for repairs, said Annette.

Frustrated by her failed attempts to log on, Annette showed up to renew her car tags in person, adding stress to the DMVs already overloaded computer system.

Its been an all hands on deck call for us. Every available resource has been put in to place. Our examiners are working late. Our I.T. staff has been in place, said David Westberry, the Director of Communications for the Florida DMV.

Terryn Butler is back for the third time because her previous two attempts to renew her tags were stopped by computer problems.

I had come in last week twice, but there were glitches in the system, said Terryn.

Thousands of people are trying to renew early to avoid higher licensing and registration fees. After waiting nearly an hour Eliana Hammons checked to make sure she wasnt skipped.

I asked if they had missed my number because I thought I had missed it and she told me it was going to be a while, said Eliana.

But if you have patience, the wait is worth the while. Some people we spoke with will save 200 to 300 hundred dollars by renewing before the deadline. The state has extended DMV office hours until 6:30 tonight. People who make it through the door before then will have a chance to renew their tags and licenses at the old prices. Some people will be given vouchers allowing them to renew at the old price up until September 10th. Drivers can renew online until midnight at www.gorenew.com, but there are no vouchers for people who cant get through.

Posted in Highways, State Budget, State News, Taxes, Transportation | No Comments »

Gambling Deal Done

August 31st, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Charlie Crist and the Seminole Tribe have agreed on a gambling deal. Last minute maneuvering and concerns by key lawmakers kept the clock ticking until mid afternoon on this, the final day to reach agreement. And as Mike Vasilinda tells us, there is a pile of cash riding on the deal.

There is already 162 million, five hundred thousand dollars sitting in the state treasury, paid to the state by the Seminole Tribe, but not a dime of it can go to schools or anything else until a deal is finalized.

That will take an act of the legislature. Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp is anxiously awaiting the cash.

You know, its always been a priority for the governor and me to not only hold education harmless, but to try to increase funding for education, even in these tough budget times, and this will help us do that,” Kottkamp said.

Negotiations took place over a good part of last week in this law firm a block from the state Capitol. The deal to let the tribe keep high stakes poker, black jack and other games has been up in the air for weeks.

As recently as Friday, key lawmakers were raising questions as to whether the governor was giving away too much.

Until lawmakers ratify what the governor has negotiated, the cash stays put.

And if lawmakers balk at the expansion of gambling, the state may never see a dime.

The Governor first signed a Gambling deal with the Seminoles in 2007, but it was thrown out by the state Supreme Court seven months later after state lawmakers successfully argued the expansion of gambling wasnt allowed by state law.

Read the Compact here: 2009831-compact

Posted in Business, Charlie Crist, Gambling, Legislature, State Budget, State News | 1 Comment »

LeMieux Next US Senator

August 28th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

George LeMieux, a long time friend and advisor to Governor Charlie Crist, will be Floridas next US Senator. Crist made the appointment this morning after two weeks of interviews across the state. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the choice is not without critics.

The announcement was made in the Historic Old Capitols Senate Chambers. It was here that US Senators were chosen by lawmakers before the people got to choose in 1913.

I want you to know that I am very happy for my friend and I am extremely happy for my state because I know that George LeMieux will serve as a United States senator in a way that will make all of us proud and grateful,” Crist said.

Responding to a thunderous round of applause, LeMieuxs little son covered his ears.

George LeMieux made it clear, he wont seek the seat in 2010, an election Charlie Crist is hoping to win.

Its a tremendous honor and responsibility to do well for the people. Max, Taylor, and Chase mean everything to me and Ill be thinking about them everyday when Im in Washington trying to do well for the people,” LeMieux said.

Critics argue Crist has added to his campaign team at taxpayers expense, and that its almost as if the Governor had appointed himself.

Hes his own man and hes a great man,” Crist said.

Theres a reason he didnt.

Nine governors have chosen to appoint themselves to a vacant senate seat. Only one of them was able to keep it.

Vivian Mrytetus worked with both before and after the gubernatorial election.

Someone commented today, they finish each others sentences.

Ive seen it happen on more than one occasion,” Myrtetus said.

Few doubt LeMieux is qualified. And he is the person Charlie Crist could trust most not to want the job at the next election.

The governor interviewed 10 people for the job. One, Congressman Bill Young of St. Pete, said no, leaving nine other contenders.

Posted in Charlie Crist, State News | 1 Comment »

Unemployment Benefits Running out for Thousands

August 28th, 2009 by flanews

Unemployment benefits will run out for more than 31-thousand jobless Floridians by the end of September. By years end 132-thousand Floridians will have exhausted their unemployment pay. As Whitney Ray tells us, once the moneys gone many people will lose their homes to foreclosure.

Jamie Alexander has been unemployed since last November and his 300 dollar a week unemployment check will stop coming soon. He doesnt like to think about it.

It will be hard. I cant really say, said Jamie.

Vincent Smith, an out of work caretaker, is also concerned about living without an income.

I have a mortgage I have to pay. I just came back from paying a utility bill. I want to make sure I keep my lights on, said Vincent.

By the end of September 31,500 Floridians will have used up all their unemployment benefits. By years end an estimated 132,000 people will join the ranks.

Marc Taps, the senior attorney with North Florida Legal services says once peoples benefits run out, it will be hard for many to save their homes.

Its very difficult to work out a modification or work with a mortgage company when there is no income, said Taps.

Florida has the highest rate of foreclosure in nation, and with thousands of more Floridians losing their income, it will make a bad problem worse.

Posted in Housing, State News, Unemployment | No Comments »

Fee Increases

August 27th, 2009 by flanews

The price you pay for a drivers license or a new car tag will more than double next Tuesday. Lawmakers voted to raise the fees to raise 800 million dollars to help fill a 3 billion dollar budget hole. As Whitney Ray tells us, drivers are racing to the DMV to renew their licenses and tags before prices go up.

If you drivers license expires before February 2011 you can renew it before Tuesday and avoid paying the hire cost.

Frank Fitzpatrick brought a file folder full of paperwork to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

I renewed four vehicles and a trailer, said Fitzpatrick.

Frank renewed early to beat a September price increase. Tuesday the price to renew a drivers license, replace a lost license or register a new vehicle will more than double.

Drivers are rushing to the DMV to beat the deadline. Stephanie Sheppard just replaced her lost license for 10 bucks, the new price will be 25.

Im actually really grateful that I beat the deadline. Being a college student, 25, is a bit more to choke down, said Sheppard.

Katheryn Giles beat the deadline and paid 20 dollars to renew her license. The new price will be 48. Katheryn says the increase isnt justified.

It took him 10 minutes. He has all the information already in the computer. Nothing is new. I think it is ridiculous, said Katheryn.

Money from the increased prices will be pumped into the states bank account. The money is used to pay for everything from schools to the salaries of state employees.

Posted in State News | 3 Comments »

Swine Flu Prisons Plan

August 27th, 2009 by flanews

More than 100 inmates at prisons around the state have contracted swine flu since the first Florida case was confirmed in May.

The Department of Corrections is keeping a close eye on inmates to try and avoid a major outbreak. The department will quarantine inmates who show flu like symptoms and cancel visitation if an outbreak occurs. DOC Spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said keeping sick inmates away from the general population will help stop outbreaks.

We treat and segregate those who are sick. Those who may have been exposed we put movement restrictions in place so theyre not going to other facilities so they could possible spread it else where, said Plessinger.

The swine flu is generally brought into the prison by guards, visitors and new inmates. As far as vaccinating is awaiting word from the CDC on whether to vaccinate inmates.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Labor Day Travels

August 27th, 2009 by flanews

Labor Day is just over a week away and many Floridians are planning on staying close to home.

Triple-A is predicting a 20 percent drop in tourism during the holiday weekend. The prediction comes after a shaky second quarter for the states tourism industry. Last quarter, travel was down 10 percent. Brenda Smith, a spokeswoman with AAA said that while traveling may be down, folks will still be spending money close to home.

“Many of our Florida travelers are planning to do some just local, but away from home, weekend trips. Some will be doing camping trips; some are going to go to other areas that doesn’t involve large theme parks- more of a quiet family outing,” said Smith.

The state relies heavily on sales tax dollars from tourists to run state government. A decline in tourism has led to higher fees and spending cuts.

Posted in Highways, State News, Transportation | 1 Comment »

Red Light Cameras Challenged

August 26th, 2009 by flanews

Several cities are being sued over taking pictures of red light runners, in order to send traffic tickets to violators. The lawsuits claim the cameras are illegal because the state hasnt adopted regulations to govern the use of the cameras. As Whitney Ray tells us, the suits arent stopping more cities from hooking up the red light cameras.

Thousands of red light runners who think they pulled off a perfect caper have been surprised days later with a ticket in the mail. 35 Florida cities and counties have set up red light cameras to catch daring drivers, collecting millions in fines.

Now drivers are fighting back filing several lawsuits. The suits claim the cameras are illegal because the state hasnt adopted rules to govern their use.

A bill to establish statewide regulations for red light cameras has failed in the legislature several years in a roll.

Tallahassee will roll out red-light cameras in October. Police Officer David McCranie said the suits havent slowed down the plan.

You can litigate anything and we are going to let that process work its way out and we are going to be in tune and make sure that we are doing what is appropriate and right by our citizens, but until it works itself through the justice system, its perfectly legal, said McCranie.

Drivers say the cameras arent fair and are just a tool to bring in more money.

They try to nip you for everything, said Candyace Harden.

Mary Rault wasnt sure how she felt about the cameras, but that all changed Saturday when she was T-boned by a red-light runner.

Before I wasnt so sure about that, you know I probably would have said no, but now that Ive been in an accident, it makes me think maybe yes, said Rault.

If red-light runners win the lawsuits, cities and counties will double their efforts for statewide regulations. The ticket for running a red light is about 125 dollars but can get more expensive depending on court cost.

Posted in Health, Highways, State News, Transportation | 1 Comment »

US Senate Appointment Pending

August 26th, 2009 by flanews

Governor Charlie Crist is still searching for a replacement for former US Senator Mel Martinez.

Martinez stepped down on August 7th. Since then Crist has been on a statewide interviewing campaign to find a replacement. Crist says hell make a decision soon.

Its been a very thorough process as I wanted it to be and hopefully we will be able to make a decision by the end of this week, early part of next week, said Crist.

Crists former Chief of Staff George Lemieux, Former Attorney General Jim Smith, and Former US Attorney Bobby Martinez are said to be the front runners for the Senate job.

Posted in Charlie Crist, Politics, State News | 3 Comments »

DMV Fees Going Up

August 26th, 2009 by flanews

Next Tuesday Floridians will be paying more for a drivers license.

Starting September 1st the price to renew a Florida license will go up from 20 to 48 bucks. Lawmakers voted to raise the fee to help fill a three billion dollars state budget hole. Governor Charlie Crist signed off on the deal. Crist cited semantics, saying at least its not a tax hike.

Id rather not do it but it is better than raising taxes and I think that we have an obligation to balance our budget and live within our means. At least we do that hear in Tallahassee. I wish they did it in Washington, said Crist.

New car registration fees will also go up from 100 to 225 dollars.

Posted in Highways, State News, Transportation | No Comments »

Bigger Power Seeks Boost

August 26th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

Six and a half million electric customers across Florida could be paying substantially higher rates if the states two biggest power companies get their way. Florida Power and Light and Progress Energy are both asking for rates hikes in the 30% range. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, they have also picked up a powerful enemy.

The Public Service Commission will decide the fate of the rate hikes sometime in November, and if a hike is approved in either case, it would begin showing up on your January bill.

These boxes with thousands of pages are what Florida Power and Light is using to justify a request for a 30 percent rate hike.

FP&Ls hearing started Monday. Progress Energys hearing, which is asking for a similar hike, begins next month.

The states consumer lawyer is fighting back.

Progress Energy is asking for 12.54 percent return on equity which is just a tad higher than Florida Power and Light. Either way you shake it, its just excessive and unreasonable,” public counsel JR Kelly said.

Listen to FP&Ls pitch:

Prices are going down next year,” FP&L spokesman Mayco Villafana said.

What the companies are really saying is that were going to take less of your money because our fuel costs have gone down, and then you wont notice when we raise your rates.

Heres why: FP&L customers should see a 17 drop in fuel charges next year, while theyre asking for an 11-dollar hike in their base rates.

Governor Charlie Crist says both rate hikes are bad.

People are hurting and I understand that and I dont think its a great time to be raising their utility rates,” Crist said.

But at the PSC, FP&Ls President isnt backing down.

Im not sure that there will ever be a time where anybody will say great, increase our rates,” FP&L president Armando Olivera said.

Whatever happens in the FP&L case is likely to be a window into what will happen with Progress Energys request as well.

The Public Service Commission will decide the fate of the rate hikes sometime in November, and if a hike is approved in either case, it would begin showing up on your January bill.

Posted in Business, State News | 2 Comments »

GOP Credit Card Controversy

August 25th, 2009 by flanews

The IRS is being asked anonymously to investigate members of the Republican Party of Florida who used party issued credit cards to spend 3.6 million dollars. If members didnt reimburse the party for personal purchases or pay taxes on the spending, the IRS could seek charges. As Whitney Ray tells us, Republican Cabinet members deny any involvement with the scandal.

In just 18 months, 3.6 million dollars in charges were racked up on credit cards given to members of the Republican Party of Florida. Former House Speaker Ray Sansom charged 173,000 dollars on his card.

No one is claiming the rest of the bill, with includes a 4,000 dollar charge to a cigar store, 13,000 dollars for limousines in New York, and 20,000 dollars to a London hotel.

There was also 9,000 dollars charged at this Tallahassee seafood restaurant.

Since the spending was revealed, Senators Jeff Atwater and Mike Haridopolos canceled their cards. Party Chairman Jim Greer cut his in two, but he isnt revealing who had the cards.

Lieutenant Governor Jeff Kottkamp denies ever using a party card. So does Governor Charlie Crist.

Its not necessary. Who needs it? Its a waste of money. Weve got to save peoples money. Thats why Ive never had a party card, said Crist.

Attorney General Bill McCollum also denies having ever owned a card. State Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer cancelled all the cards, but isnt answering questions about who had the cards and which purchases are valid and which need reimbursement.

Posted in Charlie Crist, McCollum, State News | No Comments »

Gambling Deal Close

August 25th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

You can still play the slots or black jack at a Hard Rock Casino being
run by the Seminole Tribe, but until the state and the Tribe reach a
deal, the casinos remain in legal limbo. State negotiators and he
Seminole Tribe have until next Monday to reach a gambling deal. As Mike
Vasilinda tells us, the deadline was spelled out in legislation passed.

It has been almost 2 years since Governor Charlie Crist cut a deal with
the Seminole Indians to operate full blown Vegas-style casinos in Florida.

The games have been up and running, but the deal is in limbo. State
lawmakers challenged the original deal and forced new negotiations. Now
both sides face an August 31st deadline to reach a deal.

At stake: 3 to 5 hundred million in payments to the state each year and
whether the tribe gets exclusive rights to slots outside of south Florida.

The negotiations were taking place in this law firm just a block from
the Capitol. We caught up with House Rules Chairman Bill Galvano on his
way in to observe.

My presence here is simply to provide some feedback, see where they
are,” Galvano said. “I think theyll get something together within the time constraints
set forth in the conference report.

As the clock ticks, Governor Charlie Crist says hes optimistic.

My Understanding is that its going pretty well,” Crist said. “No immediate update in
the past couple hours, but Im encouraged.

The sticking point has always been exclusivity. The Seminoles dont
want anyone competing with them.

Under the law authorizing a new deal, the Tribe could reduce payments if
slots are authorized at dog or horse tracks outside South Florida.

If theres no deal by the August 31st deadline, Attorney General Bill McCollum is expected to renew his request to federal authorities to shut the gambling operations down.

Posted in Business, Charlie Crist, Gambling, Legislature, State Budget, State News | No Comments »

Manatee Rescue

August 25th, 2009 by flanews

Florida Fish and Wildlife officers rescued an injured Manatee in the St. Marks River near Tallahassee.

The eight-foot manatee had apparently been struck by a boat and was suffering from a punctured lung. Florida Fish and Wildlife Spokesman Henry Cabbage said boaters need to keep a close eye out to keep from injuring more manatees.

They are big slow moving animals that cant get out of the way of a speeding boat especially in shallow water so we urge boaters to keep an eye out and watch for signs of manatees in the water such as a shoe shaped swirl in the water, wear polarized sunglasses so you can see animals better, said Cabbage.

The sea cow is recovering in Tampa at the Lowry Park Zoo. It is expected to make a full recovery.

Posted in State News, Wildlife | 189 Comments »

Swine Flu Information Line

August 24th, 2009 by flanews

The state Department of Health launched the Florida Flu Information line Monday. As Whitney Ray tells us, the information line is expected to ease peoples worries as the school year begins and a spike in cases is expected.

Just hours after launching the states Flu Information call center people began dialing in with questions about swine flu. Some callers are eagerly awaiting a vaccine.

A vaccine against the H1N1 Swine Flu may be available in the coming months as an option, said one call operator.

Others want to know how to avoid getting sick.

I can go ahead and give you some tips if you would like to prevent the infection, another offered.

Its no coincidence The Department of Health launched the call center on the first day of class for many schools.

You may wonder what are the symptoms of swine flu, what do I do if I feel that my child is sick. Certainly those are questions some questions that come to mind, said Susan Smith, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health.

And those questions can be answered here from 8 AM to 8 PM Eastern. Seven days a week. During peak hours the call center will have 25 operators on hand to pick up the phones and answer questions. Some of the operators are bi-lingual

Jose Rodriguez can answer questions in Spanish and English but serious health questions in either language get passed on to medical experts.

Specific calls that require a lot of attention we are actually given the number for the Department of Health and we are actually giving them this number, said Rodriguez.

and while the operators cant answer every swine flu question, they promise to point people in the right direction. The number to the Florida Flu Information Line is 877-352-3581.

Posted in Children, Health, State News | No Comments »

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